I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Shelfari Shelf

You can now access my Shelfari shelf directly by clicking on the permanent link I have posted on the right hand side of the blog, under "RA Blogs and Sites to Check Out." You can see what I am reading without creating a log-in of your own. Also, you can easily view what all the Librarians at Berwyn are reading and writing about by looking at my groups.

Enjoy, and check back often because we are all retro-fitting our older reading logs into Shelfari.

Student Annotations: Graphic Novels

It's a two-fer on annotations at RA For All today. Here are two graphic novel offerings to go with the gentle read I already posted. I do have to admit, these are two of my personal favorites also.

David Boring by Daniel Clowes
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi


Student Annotation: Gentle Reads

Here is an annotation for one of Alexander McCall Smith's extremely popular Precious Ramotswe pseudo-mysteries, Blue Shoes and Happiness.

Anyone who was intrigued by my post on The Persian Pickle Club, might also enjoy this title, as well as the 6 other offerings pointed out by Rebekah.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

BPL Displays for May 2008

This month the Berwyn Public Library is showcasing my Fantasy and Science Fiction for Beginners display. The Fantasy list was published already here. Here is the SF list.

We also have a great display by Betty entitled, Murder with a Foreign Accent. It is proving very popular.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Discussion: The Persian Pickle Club

Yesterday, my group at the Berwyn Library discussed The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. This deceptively thin novel packs more of a punch than I was expecting. The story is narrated by Queenie, a young, married woman in Harveyville, Kansas during the dust bowl years. The titular club is what the women of the town who get together to gossip and quilt call themselves. They are a group of extremely varied women, in age and demeanor, but they all love their community and look out for each other. The story begins when Rita, a city girl, marries into the community. Rita has higher ambitions; she wants to be a newspaper reporter. When one of the club member's missing husband is found buried in a shallow grave, 1 year after his disappearance, Rita is on the case. Her investigation leads all of the women to learn even more about the true nature of friendship.

The Persian Pickle Club was a refreshing choice for our group. We meet every single month, and as you can see by perusing the posts on our discussions, our books tend to be pretty serious and issue oriented (as many book discussion books are). However, this novel was light, but not unsophisticated. There was enough to talk about, as I will get to, but overall it was a heartwarming, nostalgic story about the universal power of friendship to overcome even the worst circumstances. As an experienced book discussion group leader, I would highly recommend searching out a lighter, uplifting book to throw into the mix once or twice a year.

But now on to the discussion itself...

We spent a great deal of time talking about the value of 1 person in the group; both in terms of how each person adds to the larger product of the quilt, and how much each member meant to the others, personally. This led to a larger discussion about quilting (of which we knew very little about as a group), but more interestingly, also led us to talk about the loss of community in modern society. Some of my older members talked about not knowing their neighbors like they used to. We did move into ways that communities try to still look out for each other, but how it is harder today. We agreed that it did help that these women had the combined hardship of the dust bowl to unite them. But, while in the book, for example, the Judd family, who ran the local banks, ignored the unpaid mortgages on the Harveyville farms, we all knew that that does not happen today (just look at our current "mortgage crisis).

The group did not mind that the dust bowl background was only glossed over in Dallas' novel. It was mentioned that the edition of a well fleshed out squatter family helped to "set the stage" so to speak. Another member mentioned how she could tell how bad the conditions really were by the comments about children who had never seen rain and how the overwhelming dryness became a source of humor and jokes for the townsfolk. For her, this use of dialog did a great job of articulating the setting.

The final third of the discussion focused on the resolution of the mystery itself. SPOILER ALERT. Skip to the readalikes if you do not want to know the end. It turns out, all of the women in the group "admit" to killing Ben, Ella's husband. He was abusive. It appears he attacked Ella just as she was about to host a Pickle meeting. My group did not mind that we will never know who actually killed Ben, but they appreciated how the group functioned as one, and if one of them did it, they all did. Rita learns the true power of friendship, does not turn the women in (not that it would matter; the Sheriff knows and is ignoring the truth), and even learns to quilt.

There are a few other surprises I have left out, but the overall point is that these women all grow throughout the course of the novel, and my group appreciated spending time with them. I should also mention how much everyone enjoyed Queenie as a narrator. She was a multidimensional character, with a good sense of humor. She was consistent but still managed to surprise me up to the end. As a content wife myself, I also liked that she was in an equal, supportive, and fulfilling marriage.

If you enjoyed the dust bowl setting of The Persian Pickle Club there are many suggestions. A few that Kathy compiled for the Berwyn Library are Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads (audio CD), and American Experience: Surviving the Dustbowl (Documentary, DVD). In nonfiction there is also the award winning and recent title The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan.

Kathy also had a few other suggestions for our book groups including the fiction titles Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag, A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck, The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood, and the Elm Creek Quilts novels by Jennifer Chiaverini. (As usual, please see the Amazon records for summaries, reviews and customer comments)

I would also add Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Laura Landvik to this list. And don't forget, there are also many nonfiction books on quilting to be found at any public library under the Dewey Number 746.46.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Student Annotations: Women's Lives

More annotations, this time on the genre of books known as Women's Lives.

Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man by Claudia Carroll is Irish Chick Lit.

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray is narrated by a 40-something author is a great suggestion for those looking for a more mature look into family relationships, but still want humor.

Both would make for good beach reading, if the weather ever turns.

Remember if you have read these specific books, each annotation contains 3 fiction and 3 nonfiction readalikes. All together each student annotation gives you 7 reading options. What a deal!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Take Ten: Reading Into the Wild

Here is another student list of ten books. Here Parry shared her and a friend's idea for doing the ultimate roving RA. One day they want to get an RV full of books and provide library service to vacationers at our national parks. In this list, she imagines a wide range of reading tastes and ages for the list. One day, she hopes to put it into action.

So here is Reading Into the Wild: Stories, real and imagined, which explore, celebrate, and dramatize the natural world and our place in it.

You might find a few good titles for your own vacation this summer.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Student Annotations: Nonfiction

The semester is over and I think I have all of the student volunteers I am going to get. [Although, any students out there reading this, you can still e-mail me your annotations to share with the world]

Today I will post nonfiction.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence by Paul Feig

The first is very popular right now, and the suggested reading might help you help a patron still waiting for Eat Pray Love. The second is an excellent readalike for your Sedaris fans.

I will have many more Student Annotations in the coming weeks. Just a note though, I will not be teaching again until the Fall, so this summer, I cannot rely upon my students to help give me content, although I have been saving it up.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What I'm Reading: April 2008

Another month has ended and if you were reading this blog this month you could see I read a wide range of books.

I will begin talking about Steven Millhauser's newest short story collection, Dangerous Laughter. Millhauser is a master of the macabre short story. He has won the Pulitzer Prize and is one of my absolute favorite writers. This collection would serve as a good introduction to Millhauser's work. My two favorite stories in this collection also highlight what Millhauser does best in all his work, show how human ambition can become misdirected, morphing into a grotesque situation. "In the Reign of Harad IV," tells the story of a miniaturist working for an ancient king, who strives to create replicas of the castle and its furniture so small that he ends up in madness working in the realm of the invisible. "The Tower," imagines a community who worked for generations to build a tower that could reach heaven. Millhauser loves writing short stories, and his adoration for the form shines through in this collection. It is simply fun to read.

Many authors try to capture Millhauser's mix of playfulness and serious commentary about human ambition, however, nothing is exactly the same. Two short story collections are worth mentioning, Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, and Elizabeth McCracken's Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry both come close to capturing the mood and tone of Dangerous Laughter. For those looking for a novel with similar appeal, Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead in which the story alternates between heaven and an earth which is quickly being depopulated by a virus, would be a good bet.

Not too far down the macabre path, I also finally got around to listening to the outrageously popular Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay this month. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dexter, he is a serial killer who kills serial killers. He works for the Miami Police as a blood splatter analyst. This book read like a fairly grotesque episode of Law and Order. However, Dexter himself is what makes these books stand out. He is frank with the reader, often breaking from the narration of the plot to "talk" directly to the reader. It is very engaging and works extremely well on audio.

The Dexter books (there are now 3 plus the Showtime TV series) are considered psychological suspense, a genre that is gaining in popularity. A few other suggestions similar to Lindsay's style and level of gore (which is high) would be Chelsea Cain's more traditional serial killer story Heartsick, and Jeff Povey's darkly comic spoof of the same story in The Serial Killers Club.

Now for something completely different, I read another favorite author's newest offering this month, but this time it is in the Women's Lives and Relationship's category. Jennifer Weiner returns to the character that started her career in Good in Bed, Cannie Shapiro, with Certain Girls. It is 12 years later and Cannie's prematurely born daughter, Joy, is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah and going through the traditional angst of pre-teendom. The story alternates chapters between Joy and Cannie's point of view. I could not put this book down. I thoroughly enjoyed each voice and was caught up in the story. It sounds cliche, but I really did go through a full range of emotions reading this novel; I would laugh out loud and weep, depending on the situation. The ending is much like that of Good in Bed, resolved, but open enough for Weiner to revisit the characters again sometime in the future.

I have written a readalike article on Weiner for NoveList and here, on this blog, I posted these authors to try if you like her. Another addition I would add to that list is Lolly Winston.

How Libraries Can Help Book Groups

One of the best RA opportunities in the public libraries comes from the interaction between the librarians and book group participants. Whether it is a library sponsored book group, or simply a patron who attends a private book club, book group participants and librarians have much to gain from working together.

The Booklist Online Book Buzz Blog (for which I also have a permanent link on the right hand side bar of this blog) recently published an article entitled "25 Ways Libraries Can Serve Book Groups." As the author states, "Libraries need to recognize book group readers as one of their core audiences, a population that deserves “extra-mile” service."

I could not agree more. Take a look at these useful tips.

50 Best Cult Books

The Telegraph of London published their list of the 50 best Cult Books with annotations. They even try to define what a "cult book" is.

This is a great list to pass on to your "alternative" readers.

Scroll to the bottom and check out readers' comments. Many people have added their own favorite "cult books" to the list.